Safety in Numbers: The Principle of Shuhra and its Use (A Response)


What if someone proposes that Imam al-Sadiq purposely introduced false positions among his Ashab to such an extent that the overwhelming majority of them became misguided (adopted the false positions) – with the truth remaining only in the hands of an ‘elite few’?

This is what John Andaluso proposes in order to claim that we (the whole sect and the thousands of scholars in it) got the false end of the stick from the Imam about Abu al-Khattab. The Imam had not actually disassociated himself from Abu al-Khattab when he disassociated himself from him in multiple statements and to multiple companions! In fact, Abu al-Khattab was a bearer of his secrets, secrets which no doubt include the divinity of the Imam and the wholesale abrogation of the Law.

This article is written in response. I only ask more learned readers (in epistemology) to overlook the circuitous route I take. My defense is that I am dealing with someone who does not have a consistent methodology in the acceptance and rejection of reports and can arbitrarily pull the Taqiyya card at the drop of a hat[1], so I have no option but to follow him down the rabbit-hole and see where we end up.


The Principle of Shuhra

My response to such a reading of history, without pointing out the obvious theological conundrum that it raises[2], is to take recourse in the principle of Shuhra which I believe to be the bane of the whole nested-Taqiyya (Taqiyya within Taqiyya) world-view that Esoterics require.

The principle of Shuhra was devised to take care of a scenario where a few random weirdos get together and attribute what they want to the Imam and then pull the Taqiyya card when confronted by the overwhelming majority of the Ashab who had heard otherwise from the Imam (i.e. “he did Taqiyya against all of you innit, you’re not special like us!”)

What is the principle of Shuhra?

Imam al-Sadiq instructs one of his companions to deal with contradictory positions attributed to him by siding with that position attributed to him which was famous amongst the Ashab wherever possible.

This principle is useful only if ‘both positions are attributed to the Imam’, ‘there was indeed a famous position among the Ashab[3] and ‘we can identify what the famous position among the Ashab was’.

Consider the parallel cases of Zurara and Abu al-Khattab respectively.

There are many reports that curse Zurara[4] and others that praise him, similarly, there are many reports that curse Abu al-Khattab and Andaluso argues there must have existed others that praise him (they don’t now).

Now I argue[5] that the famous position among the Ashab in the face of this contradiction was as follows: they accepted the reports that praise Zurara as being ‘in effect’ and the disassociation of the Imam from Zurara as being in Taqiyya, this is because the Imam himself made it known to them that he is engaging in Taqiyya with Zurara[6], this is not the case with Abu al-Khattab, in his case they accepted the disassociation of the Imam from Abu al-Khattab as being ‘in effect’ with whatever praise Abu al-Khattab may have had in the past totally defunct after his ‘fall’, this is because the explanation of Taqiyya for him from the Imam was not known to them[7].

Andaluso recognizes that the principle of Shuhra deals a fatal blow to his proposal and launches an attack.

This principle itself was given in Taqiyya!


He claims that the ‘two Hadiths’[8] that I bring as a basis for this principle actually contradict each other.

Let us look at the ‘two Hadiths’ in question to see whether his claim of ‘contradiction’ holds up or not.


Two Hadiths or One?

Hadith No. 1 is a pithy statement attributed to an unnamed Imam which Kulayni cites in the Introduction to his al-Kafi without giving a chain[9].

Hadith No. 2 is such a crucial Hadith that it has its own name, it is referred to as the Maqbula by scholars, and considered to be the prime frame-of-reference for any discussion on Tarjih (preferring one set of report over a contradictory one).

The Maqbula consists of a relatively lengthy conversation between the companion Umar b. Hanzala and Imam al-Sadiq which Kulayni includes in the chapter entitled Ikhtilaf al-Hadith (Differences between Hadith) whilst providing a full chain for it[10].

At one point in the conversation, Umar asks the Imam what should be done when two scholars (narrators of Hadith) – who have been set up as judges in a dispute among two Shias – give contradictory rulings (based on contradictory reports attributed to the Imam) while they are both Adl (morally upright) and Mardhi (acceptable) in the estimate of the Ashab?[11] It is at this point that the Imam states something relevant to our discussion.

The ‘two Hadiths’ are tabulated side by side below:

Hadith No. 1

Hadith No. 2 (Maqbula)

خذوا بالمجمع عليه فإن المجمع عليه لا ريب فيه

Take that which Mujma alayhi for there is no doubt in the Mujma alayhi


ينظر إلى ما كان من روايتهم عنا في ذلك الذي حكما به المجمع عليه من أصحابك فيؤخذ به من حكمنا ويترك الشاذ الذي ليس بمشهور عند أصحابك فإن المجمع عليه لا ريب فيه


It is looked for that report – among the reports which they attribute to us on the matter (issue of dispute) and on whose basis they rule – the one which is Mujma alayhi among your Ashab, so that one is taken as being from our rulings, and the Shaadh which is not Mashhur among your Ashab is abandoned, for there is no doubt in the Mujma alayhi

Any honest reader who compares what has been bolded in the ‘two Hadiths’ above will conclude that we are dealing not with ‘two Hadiths’ but what is essentially ‘one Hadith’ – the words that Kulayni attributes to the Imam in the Introduction (Hadith No. 1) go back to the Maqbula (Hadith No. 2)[12]

In other words, Kulayni merely excerpts and paraphrases the relevant part of the Maqbula in his Introduction. Since the Maqbula does have a chain, it follows that Kulayni is not quoting unsourced words in his Introduction. They are the words of Imam al-Sadiq.


What is meant by Mujma alayhi?

Mujma alayhi, which can literally be translated as ‘united upon’, does not mean unanimity i.e. all the Ashab without exception, this is because the Imam draws a contradistinction between it and the Shaadh which he defines as الذي ليس بمشهور – ‘that which is not Mashshur (famous)’.

And this is confirmed when Umar proceeds by saying:

     فإن كان الخبران عنكما مشهورين قد رواهما الثقات عنكم؟

What if both the reports attributed to you are Mashhurayn (equally famous) and have been narrated by the Thiqat from you (i.e. on your authority)?[13]

From here we infer that Mujma alayhi means the Mashhur or ‘famous among the overwhelming majority’ in contradistinction to the Shaadh or ‘limited to an extreme minority’.

This is why I call this the principle of Shuhra.


What Contradiction?

After making this blunder of not realizing that he is dealing with what is essentially one Hadith, Andaluso proceeds to make an even greater blunder by asserting that the ‘two Hadiths’ contradict each other and “are presenting two different methodologies related to consensus which are mutually exclusive”. Thus he concludes from this supposed contradiction between them that the Imam gave “different methodologies to different companions out of Taqiyya”.

What is the contradiction between the two?

As for Hadith No. 1, Andaluso takes the statement ‘take that which is Mujma alayhi’ and reverses it to infer that it is prohibiting us from “taking upon shaadh (rare) ahadith full stop”.

But this would only be true if we read the statement in isolation and without considering the interpretive context in which it is cited, after all, Kulayni is quoting these words of the Imam as part of a larger passage:

فاعلم يا أخي أرشدك الله أنه لا يسع أحدا تمييز شئ مما اختلف الرواية فيه عن العلماء عليهم السلام برأيه، إلا على ما أطلقه العالم بقوله عليه السلام: اعرضوها على كتاب الله فما وافى كتاب الله عز وجل فخذوه، وما خالف كتاب الله فردوه و قوله عليه السلام: دعوا ما وافق القوم فإن الرشد في خلافهم وقوله عليه السلام: خذوا بالمجمع عليه، فإن المجمع عليه لا ريب فيه  

Know then O my brother, may Allah guide you, that it is not excusable for anyone to prefer something (a position) in that (matter) in which the reports from the Imam have differed – by using his personal opinion, except (he has to prefer one position over another) on the basis of that which was said by the Imams in his words …. And in his (i.e. the Imam’s) words ‘take that which is Mujma alayhi for there is no doubt in the Mujma alayhi[14]

Thus Hadith No. 1, when read in context, is instructing us to prefer the report that is Majmu alayhi when there is a difference of positions (contradictory reports) over the same matter such that one position is Majmu alayhi (and the other is Shaadh) not “full-stop” as Andaluso claims.

This is exactly what Hadith No. 2 is telling us to do, and how could it be otherwise, for we have realized that Kulayni in Hadith No. 1 is quoting Hadith No. 2 (in truncated from) and is enough of a scholar to provide its context in his own words without distorting its import. 

As for Hadith No. 2, Andaluso takes the half-statement ‘The Shaadh (rare) which is not famous with your companions (i.e. the scholars) is abandoned’ and reverses it to infer that it “permits taking upon shaadh (rare) ahadith if there is no contradiction to a famous hadith”

But isn’t this a very clear contradiction in terms?!

The Shaadh in the context of how it has been used in the Maqbula is a relational term such that it has got a famous contradictory report(s) opposing it[15]. Speaking of a Shaadh which is ‘not contradicting to a famous hadith’ is like speaking of a ‘spotted leopard’ without ‘spots’!

The problem seems to be that Andaluso is conflating between Shaadh and Ahad (solitary report) when there is a difference between them in the sense that the latter could be the only report on the issue, or multiple reports with the same import and no report(s) contradicting them.

The Maqbula is not about whether we should accept or reject the solitary report (which is free of contradiction) such that we should bring up Sharif Murtadha’s view. Accepting solitary reports (free of contradiction) was a given in the Taifa and beyond any doubt – regardless of what anomalous views were later postulated (i.e. Ahad merely providing Dhann and it should yield Ilm to be actionable).

The Maqbula is about what to do in cases where contradictory reports (opposing positions) are attributed to the Imams. One of the principles outlined by the Imams – if both contradictory reports are narrated by men with equal standing (in terms of moral probity, scholarship etc.) – is to look at the Shuhra (fame) of the opposing positions to discern which one is Mujma alayhi among the Ashab, thereby automatically consigning the other to be Shaadh. The Imam then instructs us to simultaneously take the Mujma alayhi whilst abandoning the Shaadh.

Of course, it may happen that both sets of reports do not fall neatly into one of these two categories, and that is why the Maqbula continues with Umar b. Hanzala posing the question – what if both are Mashhur (i.e. are close to each other in Shuhra such that one cannot be called Shaadh) and the Imam proceeds to give the next answer to break the dead-lock.


Why should we take the Mashhur?

The Imam in the Maqbula, asks his companion (and this is clearly generalized for all of us since Kulayni includes the principle in his introduction) to side with that which is Mujma alayhi among the Ashab in cases of contradictory positions attributed to him because the Mujma alayhi 

لا ريب فيه

            Is free of doubt

Now I take this Ta’lil by the Imam to be reflecting an external reality, such that whenever there are two positions attributed to the Imam then the one around which the overwhelming majority of the Ashab had united upon is the ‘truth’ which is ‘free of doubt’ (i.e. it cannot be a lie or Taqiyya), because it is the Imam who has caused them to unite upon the truth (i.e. Shuhra reveals the ‘hidden hand’ of the Imam)[16].

Put another way, whatever the necessity of Taqiyya, the Imam does not purposely mislead the overwhelming majority of the Ashab by his statements.

You see, it all boils down to the question of trust.

Was the Imam so mistrustful of the overwhelming majority of his own Ashab such that he purposely feeds them false information and the famous position among them becomes the false one while confining the even more secret truth to a smaller circle of elite?

Keep in mind that the term Ashab does not refer to lay members of the Shia masses. In fact, these were men who not only recognized the Imam’s authority and submitted to it, but were brought near by the Imam such that they were imparting his knowledge to the Shia masses, which means they were already in on the secret and keeping it from the Amma (e.g. disassociation from the Shaykhayn etc.).

So why does the Imam have to keep the truth from them?

The only answer we have been given is that the Imam was afraid of the ‘intimidation’ from his own Ashab (more about Taqiyya-theory in future parts).   


Was the Disassociation from Abu al-Khattab Mashhur among the Ashab?

While we don’t have a time-travelling machine to go back to the period immediately after al-Sadiq’s disassociation from Abu al-Khattab to discover first-hand whether the overwhelming majority of the Ashab became united upon this disassociation from Abu al-Khattab or not (based on what they were hearing from the Imam), there is enough recorded data for any neutral historian to come to the right conclusion[17].

(a) Consider how the question of the status of Abu al-Khattab was put to later Imams (presumably because the break-away Khattabiyya were calling al-Sadiq’s disassociation Taqiyya) and they confirmed the disassociation.

Andaluso conveniently ignored this point so I repeat it here.

When Imam al-Kadhim was asked how it was that Imam al-Sadiq had said about Abu al-Khattab what he said at first (i.e. to associate with him) then there came the edict of disassociating from him – the Imam responded:

أكان لأبي عبد الله عليه‌ السلام أن يستعمل وليس له أن يعزل

Was it for Abi Abdillah (the authority) to appoint but not to dismiss![18]

In another report Imam al-Kadhim describes Abu al-Khattab as one of those:

كان ممن أعاره الله الإيمان فلما كذب على أبي سلبه الله الإيمان

Whose faith was loaned out to him by Allah, so when he lied about my father – Allah snatched away that faith from him[19]

Imam al-Ridha lists the historical enemies the preceding Imams had faced up to his own time in front of a number of his Ashab and says:

و كان أبو الخطاب يكذب على أبي عبد الله عليه السلام فأذاقه الله حر الحديد

Abu al-Khattab used to lie about Abi Abdillah so Allah made him to taste the heat of the iron[20]

Imam al-Jawad declares the following in the presence of a group of his Ashab:

لعن الله أبا الخطاب و لعن أصحابه و لعن الشاكين في لعنه و لعن من قد وقف في ذلك و شك فيه

May Allah curse Aba al-Khattab, curse his companions, curse those who question his cursing, and curse those who abstain from doing it (cursing him) doubting its propriety[21]

The report above was heard and transmitted by one of Imam Jawad’s closest companions who was also his Wakil/Safir (a position Andaluso makes much of) called Ali b. Mahziyar.

Is this also Taqiyya?!

(b) Consider also how Abu al-Khattab’s reports were expunged from our corpus barring a few exceptions which are also commented upon i.e. it is noted that this was before his ‘fall’.

This excision did not begin later but already in the life-time of the Imams. We know this because our later compilations such as the ‘Four Books’ are encapsulations of earlier works, which means that the main Ashab of al-Ridha and al-Jawad like Safwan b. Yahya, al-Bazanti and Ibn Abi Umayr who were taking from the Ashab of the Sadiqayn and authored influential works – avoided his narrations, and this resulted in his Hadith not being found in the ‘Four Books’.

Now Zurara had also been the target of the censure of the Imam in many reports, but is there any reports from later Imams (after al-Sadiq) confirming the latter’s disassociation from him?

Is there anyone whose name comes up more (is more prolific) in our Hadith corpus than him?

Thus the Mashhur position among the Ashab was to ignore the reports that censure him unlike Abu al-Khattab.

And it is in this same context of comparing and contrasting Zurara to Abu al-Khattab that I brought up the fact that Zurara is considered one of the Ashab al-Ijma by the Isaba (sect).

Not because I consider Ijma to be a Hujja in of itself such that Andaluso need quote the Allamah’s statement to me[22], but because it demonstrates that there was Shuhra among the Ashab of the later Imams regarding the highly esteemed status of Zurara such that he could end up being one of the Ashab al-Ijma. Unless Andaluso believes that this Ijma of the Isaba emerged out of thin air and does not reflect the received position of the earlier companions and scholars, in which case he should give an account for how this state of affairs came to be in al-Kashshi’s time which is superior to the smooth linear progression I see in it.

Furthermore, the fact that it is al-Kashshi who records this Ijma does not necessarily mean that it began in his time and does not have antiquity. The very fact that the Ashab al-Ijma are limited to the Ashab of Sadiqayn (al-Baqir and al-Sadiq), the junior Ashab of al-Sadiq, and then the Ashab of al-Kadhim and al-Ridha, without naming the Ashab of later Imams can be used to infer that it was the subsequent generation (the Ashab of al-Jawad and al-Hadi or Tabaqa 7) who came to this consensus (i.e. that is why they did not name themselves).

As for Andaluso’s argument that Kashshi saying there is Ijma in the Isaba (which he agrees means ‘sect’) does not mean ‘whole sect’ or even the ‘majority of the sect’ (!) because someone else (i.e. Tusi) cites Ijma for things which are not truly Ijma and/or contradicts himself in citing Ijma for different positions on the same matter (in different works) then the fallacy of extending Tusi’s (mis)practice (which scholars have attempted to explain[23]) to Kashshi who clearly mentions ‘Isaba’ then the less said about it the better.        



In just one small section, Andaluso fails to realize that he is dealing with one Hadith not two, goes on to discovers a phantom contradiction in one unified statement of the Imam, and then instead of trying to resolve this phantom contradiction holds it up as an example of Taqiyya from the Imam, for he sees Taqiyya in our reports as the norm instead of an exception that has to be proven[24].

So much for critically examining texts!

But now since there is no contradiction (I don’t think even he who believes the Imam teaches ‘unworkable solutions in Taqiyya’ and teaches ‘contradictory methodologies/principles in Taqiyya’ can believe that the Imam ‘contradicts himself in the same statement due to Taqiyya!’) can he tell us why he arbitrarily rejects this principle and on what basis does he call it Taqiyya, otherwise he becomes bound to it and I impose upon him what I have imposed.

To be continued …



[1] I am attempting to probe the weakness in his position on his own terms, otherwise, if I could take the time to establish for him how Ilm al-Hadith (with Rijal) is a valid filter (not circular) taught by the Imams then none of this would even be required (I don’t have the time).

[2] Who’d have thought the Imams of guidance would purposely misguide most of their Ashab! I don’t go down this route because Aqli theological first-principles are not as self-evident to all and are many times ‘emotive’ in nature.

[3] There are a lot of cases where the two contradictory positions were close to each other in terms of Shuhra. In that case this principle does not help.

[4] I’d argue that a lot of the anti-Zurara reports are not even Taqiyya-based (do not originate from the Imam), but merely counter-reports fabricated by the Esoterics to ‘throw’ what the Legalists were narrating about their heroes ‘back at them’. This can be demonstrated by the ‘mirroring’ found in the two sets of reports. But I do not depend on this argument because it needs to be demonstrated on its own.    

[5] See the sub-section below entitled ‘Was the Disassociation from Abu al-Khattab Mashhur among the Ashab?’

[6] See for one instance where the Imam is explaining why he was doing what he was doing in regards Zurara

[7] Unless you believe that the Imam revealed the truth of Taqiyya in regards Abu al-Khattab to a ‘few’ of the Ashab such that the dominant position among them become otherwise, but this is against the principle of Shuhra.

[8] I never referred to or treated them as two different reports though

[9] al-Kafi: Vol. 1, Pgs. 8-9. Andaluso sees a double standard in my citation of a chainless report. But how is this a double-standard? When have I ever used the argument of ‘weak chain’ with him? I have purposely avoided this because I know he does not have any consistent methodology for accepting or rejecting reports. Perhaps he states this in the mistaken belief that my Mufaddal articles are directed at him, which is not the case, that one is for serious researchers. 

[10] al-Kafi: Vol. 1, Pgs. 67-68, No. 10

[11] The first tie-breaker was to go with the narrator who is ‘more trustworthy’? Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like Ilm al-Rijal which some do not accept? We’ll leave that for another day.

[12] The fact that the other two principles Kulayni cites in the Introduction ‘compare with the Qur’an’ and ‘take the opposite of the Amma’ are also found in the Maqbula is a clincher if any was needed!

[13] ibid. See how Umar is summarizing the tie-breakers, the first was to compare the standing of the Rijal narrating the two contradictory reports, the second was to look at which one was Mashhur (i.e. Mujma alayhi as opposed to Shaadh).

[14] al-Kafi: Vol. 1, Pgs. 8-9

[15] It is important to use terms in the context of how they were originally applied instead of other contexts and later developments

[16] And even if this not be the case in reality, then we would still need to comply with this Ta’abuddan (in submission to the instruction of the Imam) would we not?

[17] Even while ignoring the clear testimony of Shia heresiographers like Sa’d b. Abdallah and al-Hasan b. Musa al-Nawbakhti about this.

[18] Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 521

[19] Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 523

[20] Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 544

[21] Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 1012

[22] Do not confuse the term ‘Majmu alayhi’ used in the reports which form the basis for the principle of Shuhra with the technical concept of Ijma

[23] Sayyid Sistani explains that Tusi’s claims of Ijma about something was Ijtihadi not Hissi in the sense that he would not be reporting what is observable out there ‘in real terms’, rather, he would look at the reports on a subject, if they all say the same thing then he would cite an Ijma on the contents (even though absence of evidence is not evidence of absence), and if they are contradictory, he would reconcile them in his famous way, and then claim that there is an Ijma on it – since there are no contradictory reports left then this must be the Ijma of the Ashab. Problem is – he reconciled differently in different works. Now how can we extend this practice of a pure Mujtahid like Tusi to a Muhaddith like al-Kashshi without a Qarina?

[24] If there is one Hadith that was not said in Taqiyya it is the Maqbula because it begins with Umar b. Hanzala asking the Imam al-Sadiq whether it would be allowed for two Shia who have a dispute between them about a debt or inheritance (financial matter) to go to the Sultan (temporal rulers) and the Qudhat (judges) to obtain a ruling from them. The Imam replies: Whoever goes to obtain judgment from them, whether being in the right or in the wrong, then he has sought judgment from the Taghut (authorities apart from Allah), and whatever (property or wealth) is judged in his favour (and he takes it) then he will be taking Suht (illegitimate wealth), even if it is right and belongs to him, because he has taken it via the judgment of the Taghut, while Allah ordered that he (i.e. the Taghut) be disbelieved in (repudiated) – Allah the Exalted said: “They desire to seek judgment from the Taghut, while they were commanded to reject him” (4:60). It is because of the importance of the Maqbula that Kulayni paraphrases all the principles derived from it in his Introduction when answering his anonymous friend who was confused about ‘contradictions in Hadith’ and who became the reason why al-Kafi was written. 

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